Completed Portraits: British 19th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 53 Could anyone suggest the possible identity of either artist or sitter?

Portrait of a Man Writing at a Table
Topic: Artist

Certainly not the finest painting in the collection of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture's Collections but a frustratingly intriguing one.

Despite its present title (given on the work being accessioned in 1993) the subject is actually an intent young man painting. The handle of his brush can be seen held in his right hand, and beside him on his desk to the left is a small palette (possibly a china saucer) with dabs of paint laid out on it, and a beaker of water.

The painting is oil on panel and no clues have so far emerged regarding its artist, sitter, or provenance. There is an old Aitken Dott label on the verso suggesting it may have been reframed or cleaned at some point.

It may be a generic sketch of a student at the RSA Life Class, or it may be someone quite specific. The poorly drawn ear and poorly trimmed hair around it may simply reveal the artist's technical shortcomings, or may suggest a physical condition perhaps brought on by disease or accident.

The style of dress suggests a production date of the 1820s or 1830s, maybe slightly too early for the RSA Life Class suggestion?

If anyone has any suggestions regarding the possible identity of either artist, or sitter, we'd be delighted to find out.

Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. Neither the artist nor the sitter was identified.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.

52 comments

Jacinto Regalado,

I may be quite off the mark, but this picture strikes me more as an actor in a dressing room putting on his face, as it were, for a stage performance. No doubt Osmund could address the matter with far more authority than mine.

What is also strange is that he is not at a 'desk'. The palette and as glass (presumably of water) seem to be on the seat of a chair or short bench with a red patterned fabric (neckerchief?} hanging over an open back since the corner of his sketchbook appears to be protruding either through it or round it: so is he in fact kneeling?

Osmund Bullock,

A very interesting idea, Jacinto, but on balance I don't think so. My knowledge of actors' make-up in the early C19th is slight, but I do know that it was mask-like - very pale or even white with very heavily-defined features, though it became less extreme as lighting improved over the century. But the process of putting it on would necessarily involve (as it did when I started acting professionally in the early 1970s) looking closely into a mirror which I don't see here; and I doubt that a palette of small dabs of subtly-differing colours would have been used, and certainly not water-based ones (assuming that's the function of the glass of water). According to this https://bit.ly/2D7S5ho, "The actor’s palette consisted at this time of white chalk, carpenters’ blue chalk, papers impregnated with red colouring, and India ink. Some actors were known to make up their faces with whitewash rubbed off the walls, dust scraped from red bricks, and black from burned paper or cork or a burned match." Oh, and when making-up you almost never wear your outer clothing and accoutrements - jacket, collar, cravat, etc - whether costume or not, or they get marked - and if you do, you always put a cloth or tissues over them for protection.

Osmund Bullock,

I read this pretty much as the RSA do - somebody painting in watercolours, with a palette of colours on a white plate. The only major thing I would add to the analysis of the situation - and I see Pieter has beaten me to it with the observation while I was writing this - is that, though slight odd in its depiction, I think what he is working on is a chair, with the seat acting as a table, and the back (on which a red ?scarf hangs) as an easel. I suppose the chair may be sitting on an actual table, and the artist-sitter standing; but if not then he must be kneeling on the floor. Either way it's an unusual way to work, and might provide a clue to his identity.

On which subject I lean slightly towards it being a real person, perhaps slightly caricatured, rather than a 'type'. One outside possibility is the deaf-mute Scottish artist Walter Geikie (1795-1837) in his youth. His hearing was entirely destroyed before he was two by (presumably) a severe infection, though described in his biography by Sir Thos Dick Lauder (https://bit.ly/3jPPny6) as "a nervous fever" - could the aural deformity (if that it be) have been caused by that? The Lauder biography (and another one here https://bit.ly/3jKWEz1) emphasizes Geikie's "comic humour and ... his talent for displaying it", and that with hearing he "might have proved a first-rate actor of low comedy", such was his talent for mimicry and playing characters such as "a man overpowered by liquor" or "a sea-sick dandy", the performances reducing his fellow artists into "convulsions of laughter". The apparent character of our sitter sits well with that...but unfortunately I've been unable to find any images of him. Geikie was also an associate and later fellow of the RSA, which might explain why the painting came into their collection - is there really no record at all of how, why or from whom it was acquired in 1993?

Good morning night owls - many thanks for your interesting initial observations.

We like the idea of the actor Jacinto, but from Osmund's fascinating insight into what that entailed would still be inclined to see this as an artist at work.

The comments about whether seated, standing, or possibly kneeling (thanks Pieter), are interesting - it is clearly a rather ramshackle arrangement. It is unclear, because of the red fabric draped over the chair-back whether he is working in his sketchbook that lies flat on the table before him, with its cover propped up and visible to the left of the fabric, or whether this corner is a vertical surface on which he is painting; like a board propped against the chair-back.

No nothing has yet emerged regarding the provenance of the picture. It most probably entered the collections in the 19th or earlier 20th Century. The collection only enjoyed the full-time attention of a professional Curator from the 1980s and prior to this there had been no accessioning of the collection undertaken; hence the 1993 accession number (year of accessioning NOT of acquisition).

The link to Geikie had crossed our mind (elected Associate 1831, Academician 1834)- the draughtsmanship we would suggest certainly precludes it being by him, but the possibility that it is of him is interesting. We would agree wholeheartedly with Osmund that the quality of the painting per se has been given a lower ranking than the artist and/or sitter in the decision to accept it for the collections, and that there is therefore quite highly likely a direct link to a former Member.

Just who that may be is what intrigues us......

The Geikie hypothesis is attractive, whether or not evidence appears to support it: the sitter is definitely a 'character' whom someone saw reason to record concentratedly in action. Just to repeat that I think he is working on the 'chair' seat, on the left page of a book of which the open right upper corner is the triangular shape pointing up on the left of the chair back. The cloth over the chair looks like what was called a 'belcher' - a large, particoloured neckerchief, named after the prize-fighter Jim Belcher (1781-1811) who wore them. John Forster in hislife of Dickens tells of Turner wearing a large red one, despite it being a sweltering day, when (unusually, since not a man for noisy literary company) he was one of a celebratory party dining with Dickens in 1842 at one of the riverside taverns in Greenwich.

Is the form to back left a head, in turned about a quarter left? Not a person but perhaps head of a statue or bust -perhaps a plaster cast. If so -as suggested at top -it might be in a RSA life class, whether or not that would fit the Geikie theory.

Thank you Pieter for these further observations.

Geikie is dead before the Life School gets established, however he was a student under John Graham and Patrick Gibson SA at the Trustees' Academy, which had a cast collection - we had noticed the "apparition" at background left and had wondered whether this was a piece of sculpture.

The Academy was generally very good at recording its acquisitions, both in the Council Minutes, and in the Annual Reports, however some things have slipped through these nets.

A Catalogue of its Art Possessions was published in 1883 and the present work does not appear to feature therein, so it is possible that it arrived post 1883 and certainly by 1993....still rather a large haystack to be searching.......

Once we emerge from lockdown we will review the Aitken Dott label for a reference number which might, just might, still be married-up to any surviving records held by them [The Scottish Gallery].

Meantime any further thoughts are welcome.

Victor Rafael Veronesi ,

The picture -not finished - seems to represent into a caricatural and extremely contemporary style (it seems more a piece of the first three decades of the last century, for its modernity, than of XIX ) , quite 'comical', for sure a painter that is trying to observe , somewhere , far away from him and outside from the support, a subject that we're unable to see. He is tracing it , with a subtle brush, over a paper support with a watercolor. He is leaning to a high stool with a headboard. The right hand seems to be also traced with a pentimento, in another space of the surface of the artwork (on the left) , while moving into the air, trying to point out something , or to paint a subject on a canvas that wasn't finally traced. It seems important to have more information on the recent provenance and moreover on the label of Aitken - Dott (& Son) * concerning that the company seems to have frequently changed the definition towards the times and the company holders have defied themselves also as artists . The clothes are compatibles with the ones used during the first thirty years of XIX century across all Europe.
*https://www.npg.org.uk/assets/files/pdf/research/artists_materials_13_Scotland.pdf .

Victor Rafael Veronesi ,

For sure there were some artists of the first quarter of XIX century that were so modern with their brush strikes, as David Wilkie. This thing could be seen into the subjects of his portraits , ( the memory goes to the Billy Walters of Greenwich museum ; https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/254220.html), or to most of his water colored preparatory drawings. But all those works seem to have a well-known finger print that is not comparable with the one offered to us in exam .

Alison Golding,

I'm perfectly prepared to be wrong, but it seems to me that we are looking at two pieces of furniture: a rectangular and quite narrow table on which the subject is working and a chair pushed under the table from the other side and towards the viewing end of the picture. This interpretation makes sense of the arrangement of wooden legs at the bottom front and the position of what today would probably be the edge of a laptop screen the other side of the red material, as well as meaning that the subject would be sitting at the table on a seat of normal height.

I would consider the loss of the ear, and perhaps also of (old burn?) scarring around it to be an intentional representation of a subject who is happy to be so pictured, so an early and positive picture of a disability, perhaps? Someone with hearing loss might easily have been steered towards an occupation as an artist.

Victor - thank you for your observations. We too had wondered whether there was pentimento and that it showed the artist's right arm raised, but are still inclined that it is a background sculpture - perhaps a surface clean at some point will help resolve this.

Thanks too Alison for your thoughts about the furniture arrangements - its a rather messy to be sure and not clearly enough painted to satisfactorily resolve one way or the other, but interesting that you think the artist is seated rather than on his knees - certainly a more comfortable pose for painting.

Your interpretation of the facial deformation as possibly indicative of skin damaged by burning - which could also explain the irregular hairline - got us wondering about Charles Bell (1774-1842) who painted the extraordinary series of paintings in the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/search/actor:bell-charles-17741842
of the effects of musket ball and bullet wounds on troops who served in the Peninsular Wars, but the brushwork we think is different.

Alison Golding,

Might this be a self portrait? It could explain the rather cramped arrangement as necessitated by an arrangement of mirrors, the lighting as illuminating both subject and work in progress, the air of theatricality noted by Jacinto and the ease of the sitter in displaying his scars. The keen gaze of the subject and the lack of a separate light source on what he is looking at and painting is also explained.

If so, then for the artist we are looking for someone who has had a childhood? burn? accident.

The Academy has had several members whose physical ailments have been recorded.

Probably the best known, as already referenced, was Walter Geikie (1795-1837) who appears to have had no power of speech or of hearing from the age of two. This may have been caused by a disease such as rubella.

Could it possibly have been with him from birth but was only detected at age two however? This would broaden the range of potential causes - he may have had Down syndrome, or Microtia.
(https://www.verywellhealth.com/top-causes-of-deafness-in-children-1049348)

If it is possible to get an enhancement of the sitter's head, especially his ear, it might help reveal whether it is scar tissue, or possibly Microtia, where the outer ear fails to form (due to lack of blood supply in the womb) and has no ear canal, although the inner ear, including its balance functions, remains intact and properly developed.

This condition apparently has a higher prevalence in males than females, but is most commonly found on the right hand side, though can affect both ears.

In P J McEwan's [admittedly not always reliable] 'Dictionary of Scottish Art & Architecture' it states of Geikie (p.201) "Colour was not his forte and his oil paintings failed to show the full flourish of his genius.....Did much work at St Luke's Art Club. His lightning sketches of the idiosyncracies of many people known to the audience created great hilarity and must have helped him to forget his own physical defects."

Is it a self-portrait as Alison suggests, or is it a portrait [would it be too much to hope for] of Geikie himself painted by someone else present in the Art Club?

I doubt its a self-portrait that the sitter is shown painting. He is fairly clearly not working in oil but, watercolour, in an open book with a light brush and a glass of water alongside his palette: despite several references above to it as a 'plate' it could also really be a white ceramic watercolour palette, though it's not entirely clear. (I have what is probably a later 19th-century example; oval, 8 x 6 in, with a thumb-hole and slight brush-nock at one end).

Louis Musgrove,

To me it does appear that the sitter might have a slight touch of Trisomy 21 . I believe Down Syndrome is a name possibly to be avoided these days- which is why I didn't want to mention it earlier.

Osmund Bullock,

Is that right, Louis? Trisomy 21 is certainly a term used by doctors, but usually in more technical/professional contexts. I have a second cousin with Down's, and if you're right I fear her parents, her siblings and the rest of us didn't get the memo...and neither, it seems, did the NHS and the UK's two main Down's charities: https://bit.ly/33dJYuL, https://bit.ly/33fHCeI, https://bit.ly/3jTLuYV

Louis Musgrove,

Yes Osmund- these days one has to be careful of names- even the most familiar name or word can give offence to someone or some group somewhere. We live in funny times- but as the ancient Greeks used to say " Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, first they make mad" ! ( paraphrase of Sophocles-Antigone) And with your experience- what is your opinion of our sitter??

Our sincere apologies if we have inadvertently used a term which is no longer considered appropriate for the naming of a medical condition.

It was used in all innocence, and was never our intention to cause offence or upset to anyone.

Carol Rose Davies,

It looks to me as if he is squinting to observe something , in front of him there is a blob ... has the picture been cleaned , and if it could be you might see what he is looking at then deduce the identity.

Thanks Carol - the "blob" we are deducing to be possibly a sculpture cast (see above) which would be in the background, ie to the right of the man at work, rather than directly in front of him.

We are of the opinion that the actual subject he is sketching is out of our vision.

No the painting has not been cleaned, it is very dirty and with several losses of paint as the image shows, but certainly a clean would help clarify several issues, including, critically, the appearance of his left cheek, ear and neck.

Osmund Bullock,

RSA, Down's/Down, with or without 'syndrome' is fine, as I'd hoped my response two days before yours made clear. I don't know where Louis came up with that, it's just not true. So no abject apology needed - but I guess that's what institutions have to do (or think they do) in a world ruled by hair-triggered Twitter-mobs. Depressing.

Louis, though I knew her as a child, I've seen little of my cousin in recent years (she's in residential care and now in her 30s). So my personal experience is of little or no value. The ideas mooted above all seem to have merit, but again I have no medical expertise that would make my opinion very useful. If anyone here is or knows a doctor with specialist knowledge, it would be great to hear from them (though the RSA may already have tried that angle).

Osmund Bullock,

Getting back to (for me) safer ground, I have found a first-hand source that seems, prima facie, to make it less likely that our sitter is Geikie. In July 1855 'American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb' published a 'Brief Sketch of the Life of Walter Geikie Esq ...' by his younger brother the Rev Archibald Geikie (1797-1872). This appears to be the source of much of the biographical detail given by Dick Lauder, and there is much of interest: https://bit.ly/33tRuSv

Most relevant is the first full para that reads, "He was a strong, healthy child till he was two years old; he had then nervous fever, attended with violent convulsions, from which he slowly recovered; previous to his illness, he had begun to articulate, as children of his age do, and had no defect in either speech or hearing; but subsequently to his recovery, my mother became sensible that his hearing was affected, and attributed it to the severity of his illness; never doubting, however, that as his health was re-established, his hearing would be restored. In this natural expectation she was doomed to be disappointed: he became strong and active, but was deaf and mute."

There is more there, but it looks like this rules out any significant pre-existing physical ailments or abnormalities; and though we can only speculate on what the disease was that struck him down (Bacterial meningitis, possibly?), I tend to think his brother would have described it differently had it been some rampant, visible tissue-destroying infection. I don't think this can be Walter Geikie.

Jacinto Regalado,

Perhaps it is a matter of technical deficiency on the part of the artist, but why does the face appear to be covered in white make-up, as opposed to the neck? It would seem to correspond to the mask-like make-up mentioned by Osmund as prevalent in the early 19th century. I agree that it was unlikely to be applied after the donning of a costume, but could this be an actor simply applying finishing touches, or re-touching his makeup between acts of a play?

Again, thank you all for your tenacity and further thinking on this painting.

We agree that there is a "mask-like" appearance to the face, but continue to suggest that this is an artist and not an actor - even if Osmund looks (sadly) to have put the link to Geikie pretty much to rest.

Our reasoning lies in the subject's pose, and in the composition.

Firstly, he is (to our eyes) concentrating pretty hard on what is before him. There seems to be "open" space between sitter and whatever it is he is observing - we would contend too distant for it to be a mirror.

Secondly, the palette colours include the primaries red, yellow, and blue (there is no sign of colours being applied to the sitter's lips or eye surrounds) and are of very small quantities- would make up then not have been applied more as a cream or powder than as a water-based pigment, and using cloths or pads as opposed to brushes?

Thirdly, and perhaps most convincingly, he holds a long-handled paintbrush which is very unlike our knowledge of make-up brushes which generally have much broader shanks. Moreover he has this brush poised, not in his palette as he mixes colour (which would be the norm for make-up as he scrutinised his face looking to see if he has missed a bit) but directly onto his paper/board/sketchbook - his right hand is clearly resting on this support also, steadying it.

And finally, there is the sculpture cast in the background.

Hopefully there is a "Doctor in the House" who can come forward to assist - irrespective of the "mask" or not, there are physical abnormalities apparently depicted and it would be good to convincingly identify what these are, and how they may have been caused.

We remain of the opinion that there is more likely to be a direct link to a past Member (be that artist or sitter) but continue to welcome your very helpful and thought-provoking observations.

Maria Castro,

I don't believe this looks like Down's syndrome. Though expression varies in individuals, people with Down's Syndrome typically have flattened mid-faces. This guy looks like he has pretty prominent cheekbones. Also, the eyes are normally slanted upwards, not down. Perhaps something like Treacher-Collins Syndrome?

Howard Jones,

Hello, just a thought but I was wondering if there might be a link between this painting and the stage play 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde'. The link below from Wikipedia shows Richard Mansfield who played the double role on stage with great success.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Jekyll_and_Mr._Hyde_{LPARENTHESES} character)#/media/File:Jekyll-mansfield.jpg

The slim black tie in the picture of Richard Mason is similar to the costume in the RSA painting.

Thanks Howard, whilst there are similarities with the mode of dress, we don't think there's a link; the stage play was not written until 1887, which we believe to be considerably later than the date of the painting, which we believe to be in the 1820s-30s.

Osmund Bullock,

Howard, there is a long-standing bug in the Art Detective software that means that any link containing a web address (URL) with a portion in brackets fails. This often happens with links to Wikipedia pages. The best way round it (and a good idea for all links, as it makes the thread less cluttered with unnecessary verbiage) is to use one of the free online link-shortening services, and post the shortened URL instead. I use https://bitly.com, but there are others - do NOT click on 'Get Started for Free', just copy the desired web address into the 'Shorten your link' box below.

This is the shortened version of your link, which (I pray!) will work properly: https://bit.ly/2EYMFWR. Having said that, I agree with the RSA that our portrait is much too early for the Jekyll & Hyde idea to be relevant.

Osmund Bullock,

Oh, for goodness' sake, the link to Bitly's website seems to have failed because of the comma immediately after it. I thought that had been sorted out? Here is the link again without a comma: https://bitly.com

Jacinto Regalado,

Ah, the mysterious Bitly trick. Thank you, Osmund. Now I know.

Howard Jones,

Thank you Osmund. Yes I hadn't checked the link was working here.

Tamsyn Taylor,

The haircut is a "Caesar" cut, growing in popularity from about 1810-1825

Osmund Bullock,

I think it's likely too early for Erskine Nicol, Tamsyn - he wasn't born until 1825. His earliest work is probably from the 1840s, though I can't actually see any examples from before the 50s, and he worked predominately in Ireland. I don't think I really see the same hand at work here as shown in your example. A broader view of Nicol's work - and some of it is perhaps a bit closer to ours - can be seen here: https://bit.ly/2PAKfja . Click on 'View more' at the bottom.

I suppose it might be a very young work of his; but without any inscription or provenance to go with ours, nor juvenilia of Nicol's to compare it with, I think it'll be hard to take your idea any further.

We have shared an image of the painting with a retired GP whose opinion is that it is more likely to be a burns victim than someone with Down Syndrome or Treacher-Collins Syndrome. Someone with Treacher-Collins would have a receding chin, not the prominent chin our subject has.

The blotchy treatment of the skin and its slightly shinier appearance would tally with this “diagnosis” and equally the missing or deformed ear could easily be the result of a severe burn.

This discussion, “Could anyone suggest a possible identity of either artist and sitter?” has focused on an intriguing small panel of an artist in profile in the Royal Scottish Academy collection. It has attracted 37 comments in July and August this year.

As an unusual portrait, the possibility of it being a caricature or a “type” has been considered (28 July). As has the possibility that the subject of the portrait has some medical condition, with one professional view saying that the he is more likely to be a burns victim then someone with Down Syndrome or Treacher-Collins Syndrome (10 August). Whatever the case, the only identification discussed at any length has been the suggestion that the portrait could represent the death-mute Scottish artist Walter Geikie (1795-1837) (28 July etc). While this idea is attractive, the problem is that other portraits for comparison are lacking, as are helpful descriptions of the appearance of this artist beyond that quoted on 7 August. At the most, the collection might consider describing the portraits as “Possibly Walter Geikie” with some suitable caution in the accompanying text. Or perhaps it should remain as Unknown Sitter. As to the artist we can say little more than that it is very probably not a self portrait, given the profile pose.

It may be difficult to progress this further. It would be good to see an image of the Aitken Dott label on the reverse to try to date it using my guide to Scottish canvas marks and labels (link, see 28 July). However, when I last heard (6 October 2020), RSA staff were still working remotely. If one could date the label one might ask if there is a record of work being commissioned from Aitken Dott at the time by the RSA, which certainly used this business on occasion. For the time being this may need to wait.

I would like to suggest to Art UK, if it has not been suggested before, that collections presenting a portrait for discussion should additionally provide an image of the work in its frame and from the reverse, as attachments or in some other form. In several cases that I have reviewed over the last ten days such images would have been helpful.

Many thanks to Robin and his colleague. These photos are important.

Such a fine frame, clearly dating to about 1830, and apparently made for the portrait, would suggest that someone at the time thought it important. The Aitken Dott & Son label, applied for an unrecorded purpose, dates to 1880 or later. An almost identical label dating to 1899 can be seen in my guide to Scottish canvas marks and labels (link, see 28 July).

The aspect ratio of the onscreen image of the portrait seems to differ a bit from the recorded measurements. Further, the scale of Aitken Dott's label makes me wonder if the panel is in fact larger. Further still, the large numeral 4 on the reverse of the panel reminds me of the use of such numerals on French panels. Their size 4 panels were 32.5 x 24.5 by the end of the century. Now here is a pack of cards for the collection to blow over!

Just to repeat an earlier point that might have an identity bearing; that the sitter looks to be working in watercolour, not oil and possibly in an open sketchbook.

Marcie Doran,

An older discussion but an intriguing work that I have been back to a dozen times.

I think this is a quick study of the French poet Charles Baudelaire composing poetry late at night by the French artist Gustave Courbet (1819-1877).

I agree with the first part of Alison’s comment of 28/07/2020 15:18 - I think he is seated at a table. A glass of spirits and a small plate of refreshments are on the table. A red blanket is draped over the chair. His hair is messy because he has been running the fingers of his left hand through it as he composes poetry late at night.

Courbet painted a similar but more detailed work (“Portrait de Charles Baudelaire”) in 1848 that is at the Musée Fabre, Montpellier (https://tinyurl.com/f9vruz7j). I have attached a composite that I created using an image from an article in The Independent newspaper (https://tinyurl.com/uvf3t3xk). The composite reveals many similarities including the table and the red blanket (on the chair in the Art UK work and on Baudelaire’s lap in the known Courbet work).

There is a photo of Baudelaire by Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) taken in 1855 on Wikipedia that shows him in similar clothing. https://tinyurl.com/uppxhszf. I have attached a composite.

Jacinto Regalado,

I do not think so, Marcie. Ours is much too crude for Courbet.

I think Marcie may be right to think of someone French (which would fit with my query as to whether the panel was French-made, see 20 October 2020). If so, I'd suggest that this is a portrait chargé, i.e. a type of caricature. But of whom? And by whom?

Marcie Doran,

Gustave Courbet’s painting “The Painter's Studio: A real allegory summing up seven years of my artistic and moral life” (1855) shows, on the far right, Baudelaire seated at a table with a book. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Painter's_Studio

Notice that this work includes images on the wall above Baudelaire’s book (a woman’s face (the nude model in the centre of the work?), with a blue bird in a cage below it), just as the Art UK work shows a similar tilted woman’s face on the left of the work (is the poet gazing at her and inspired by her beauty?) I have attached a composite.

A Wikipedia entry for Courbet’s “Portrait de Charles Baudelaire”, which I mentioned in my comment above, states: “The artist himself dated it to 1840, but it seems to have mostly been painted around 1847, a year in which the poet and the painter met frequently.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_Charles_Baudelaire

Courbet painted in oil on panel, as discussed in this article about “Portrait of H. J. van Wisselingh, 1846” on the Kimbell Art Museum (Texas) website. https://kimbellart.org/collection/ap-198404

Kieran Owens,

Marcie, I am sorry to say that I am struggling to see any woman's face in this painting. I am also seriously struggling to believe that this could possibly be an image of Baudelaire, as it bears no similarity whatsoever to any available photograph, drawing or painting of him, from any stage in his life. The sitter in this work has hair severely brushed (if it in fact ever was brushed!) forwards and suffers from quite a prominent underbite in his jaw, attributes not shared with the famous poet. And what might be the relevance here of the fact that Courbet painted in oil on panel? Thousands of artists did.

As referenced before, it helps very little to post speculations about possible attributions or identities based on a generalised hunch or a vague compositional similarity. I could post a dozen images of men sitting at tables reading books or writing and claim that they must be related in some way to this work.

Once again, I humbly offer that what is required in these discussions is verifiable proof or at least strong credible evidence that the sitter, subject or artist is of a particular identity. Dropping images onto Google Images or Tin Eye or some other such image recognition software produce hundreds of "similar" results but very rarely any of meaningful value.

With deep respect, I would suggest that we all should be very wary of using phrases such as "I think" or "I believe", to treat them as bell-ringing warnings and only consider posting suggestions that contain the phrases "here is proof" or "here is a strong credible possibility" for any claim that can then be usefully considered by other contributors to these discussions. As all of our input is voluntary, and as time is a precious commodity, we would all be better served if our postings were made with that consideration in mind.

JAN MARSH,

so what is the significance of the handwritten date 'May 1842' on the label?
apologies if already discussed, I didnt follow this originally

Osmund Bullock,

I'd always assumed it was part of the printed label, Jan - it may be in cursive script, but so is the name of Aitken Dott & Son immediately above it. Yes, I think it must be - 1842 was the year the firm was founded. See Jacob's 'British picture framemakers, 1600-1950' https://bit.ly/3umCXmW.

Kieran Owens,

Aitken Dott would appear to still operate, out of 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh. Do they have an archive? On the back of the frame in two places (on the left side perpendicular of the exterior frame and the right side perpendicular of the interior frame) are the same numbers - F 5272. If this corresponds to any record still held by Aitken Dott it could help determine whether the frame was made for the painted panel or whether the latter was inserted into a later recycled frame at a different date. On looking at the painting, it does appear as though it might have once sat in an arched frame, given the presence of the curving edges at top left and right.

Osmund is right. “May 1842” is part of the Aitken Dott’s printed label. You can see another example reproduced in my guide to Scottish canvas stamps and picture labels, Part 13, at the foot of the page on the National Portrait Gallery website, https://www.npg.org.uk/research/programmes/artists-their-materials-and-suppliers/ , as pointed out earlier in this discussion.

In my experience the frame is likely to be original to the picture or at least of early date. The Aitken Dott printed label dates to after 1880, as you can see from my guide to picture framemakers on the National Portrait Gallery website at https://www.npg.org.uk/research/conservation/directory-of-british-framemakers/d#DO

Kieran understandably points out the numerals, “5272”, on the inner and outer parts of the frame. These may well be stock or order numbers from the time that the frame was made. In my experience this fine frame probably dates to the 1830s. If so, the frame has nothing to do with Aitken Dott beyond later regilding or repair. Dott is known to have undertaken work on pictures of the Royal Scottish Academy on occasion, for example in 1897 when the business was paid £39.5s for cleaning and repairing pictures belonging to the RSA (National Records of Scotland, NG1/37/2).

Has the time come to close this discussion? We have not been able to identify the sitter, nor the artist.

All sorts of suggestions were made in 2020. That the painting was made at a life class (27 July). Or that it represents an actor in a dressing room (28 July), a deaf mute artist (28 July), a self portrait or an artist (31 July), someone with Down’s (31 July) or a burns victim (10 August). But none of these carry conviction for lack of evidence.

Two sitters have been suggested, the artist Walter Geikie (28 July 2020) and, very recently, Charles Baudelaire (27 September 2021). But neither of these carry conviction.

My own view is that the picture was painted in France, based on an examination of the reverse of the panel, which seems French to me, and that it is a type of caricature portrait. But again the evidence is insufficient.

I would like to think that somewhere in the minute books or records of the Royal Scottish Academy there is a reference which might one day be joined up to this fascinating portrait.

It may well be time to draw a line under this one.

The Royal Scottish Academy is extremely grateful to eveyone who has contributed to this discussion, and although the identity of artist and sitter remain unresolved, a number of important observations have been made which contribute to a broader appreciation of this work.

We note with interest Jacob's thoughts that the work is painted on a panel of French manufacture, though that does not automatically confirm that the work is by a French hand.

In our initial thoughts on the work we paid cognisance to the general thrust of the Academy's collecting policy - a work by a French artist - especially one so "slight" would mark a serious departure and one that one would assume to have been recorded. We remain of the opinion that this is most likely the work of someone and depicting someone with a direct link to the Academy and its Life Class.

We continue to unearth important data on the collections from the Archives and hope, like Jacob, that the truth will yet emerge. ArtUK will certainly be informed as and when it does.

Meantime, our sincere thanks again to all contributors, experts, and Moderators.